There is no shortage of opinions and articles on why it’s better for salespeople to only ask prospects open-ended questions. Many give the advice that to be a successful seller, you must ask open-ended questions and avoid closed-ended questions at all costs.
That’s why people are very surprised to hear that our research has shown it doesn’t matter if you ask opened-ended or closed ended questions. What matters is your reaction to the prospect’s answers and the context of the question.
Your Response is What Really Matters
Have you ever responded to a question, and without acknowledging you, the person who asked moves along to their next question? It probably made you feel like they weren’t listening to you and all they cared about was asking their question. Unfortunately, this happens all too often during sales interactions.
It doesn’t matter if the questions your sellers are asking are well-crafted and reflect a lot of preparation; if they aren’t reacting appropriately to your prospect’s responses, they will not uncover the information needed to make a sale.
If your sellers are responding appropriately to their prospect’s answers, then it doesn’t matter if they are asking open-ended or close-ended questions. Sellers can respond with a question about their answer, show empathy or a summary of the response to show the prospect that they were listening to them.
Don’t Forget the Context of Your Question
In addition to responding carefully to the answers of a prospect, the context of the questions a seller asks is also important. While most sellers are curious and eager to learn more about prospects, questions need to be asked at the right time during the sales process and sales call. The seller needs to establish credibility in the eyes of the prospect before asking certain questions, and they need to earn the right to ask the question.
If your seller asks too many bread-crumb questions or presents vague generalizations, it will quickly frustrate the prospect and damage rapport. This will also happen if your seller asks questions just for the sake of asking questions, or trying to uncover information that they should already have known.
When developing questions before a sales call, start with what information needs to be uncovered or confirmed from the prospect. Once sellers figure that out, they can work backwards to develop the right questions – open ended or close ended – that are timely, have appropriate context, and are based on where the prospect is in their buying journey.
The debate over open-ended versus closed-ended questions is missing the point. When asking questions to a prospect, regardless of whether they are open ended or close ended, the most important factor is how the sellers respond and the context of their questions.
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